Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sts. Martin and Peter - Will We follow them as they follow Christ?

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the celebration of Martin Luther King's Birth. For Episcopalians, today is also the celebration of The Confession of St. Peter. The convergence of these two "feast days" seems somewhat important to me. Both Peter and Martin were disciples who decided that they would follow Jesus Christ all the way to his and their deaths. They were both prophets to the people around them and they both confronted the political and religious leaders of their times and suffered the consequences of their witness to the liberating Christian Gospel.

Both King and St. Peter publicly declared the true identity of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. And, they died: King from the gunshot of a racist white man; St. Peter - crucified by the orders of a lunatic Roman Emperor. Their legacies have been softened over time in some ways. King is remembered for his "I have a dream" speech not for his advocacy of sanitation workers in Memphis or denouncement of the Vietnam War.African American historian Vincent Harding had this to say about his friend:

"Martin was one of these "crazy" members of the Christian community who really took Jesus seriously. And believed that the way you get closest to the divine is by getting closer and closer to the most outcast members of the society. And that's a hard path, but once you have chosen it, you know that there's no easy alternative." (Harding, 2011, para. 28)

The Church remembers St. Peter as one of Jesus' closest followers and his role as the Roman Catholic Church's first pope. We speak of his denial (Luke 22: 54-62) but we're more prone to recall his proclamation of Jesus' Divinity.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah,* the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter,* and on this rock* I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

Who do we say Jesus is? How do we say it? Under our breaths, with our reception of the Eucharist. Do we get closer to God by getting closer to the people on the margins of our society. Jesus put his hands onto the bodies of lepers. Peter challenged Nero in Rome and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. King marched with sanitation workers. What am I willing to do? What is our Church willing to do?

It's my faith that our lives are reborn through sacrificial acts. The mortal end of our lives is not the end of our existence; it's the beginning of new life in Christ's eternal presence. Martin and Peter believed in Jesus and his resurrection. And yet, I'm not a huge fan of martyrdom. I don't want to die as Jesus, Martin Luther King, and Peter died. I don't know many people that do and yet the sacrificial aspects of following Jesus won't go away. I often doubt that I have the same courage. I give thanks for Martin Luther King and St. Peter's examples while often choosing not to pick up my cross as they did. I don't want to be like the White pastors and priests who King chastised in his letter from a Birmingham Jail. Sometimes I am - I am not alone.

I've considered the risks that the Saints have taken on our behalf while wondering what sacrifices I'm willing to make today and the days to come. It's easy to remain in the crowd when and where it is safe; the status quo provides security and solidarity. Walking in Selma of the 60s or treading the Galilean Way with Peter is unsafe. Caring for the least of these demands compassion, courage, and contemplation.

Martin Luther King said on April 3rd, 1968:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

He was murdered the next day.

I want to do God's will too. I hope that faithful Christians do too. The days are still at hand that we must continue to challenge racism, violence, and global oppression as King did. The Holy Spirit encourages us to confess our faith in Jesus as Peter did and faithfully follow them to the Cross and to the Easter tomb with God's help.

I hope that all of us will live more prophetically and push back against the World's desires as Jesus calls us to join him in creating God's reign of justice, love, and reconciliation now, not in the hereafter. I pray that we will continue to walk along The Way, without unnecessary death at our side but with a willingness to go and be faithful disciples as Jesus beckons us to do along The Way.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reflections on what happened in Tucson this past Saturday

It's not easy to be away from home when a terribly sad event happens. It brings a sense of helplessness and separation that can't be fixed when there's work to be done, snow storms taking place, and little that one's presence in the community would help to resolve or repair. I was away from Tucson, the place of my birth and the community that I shall always call home.

I was driving on the road in New Jersey when I first heard the NPR report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been critically, thankfully not mortally wounded (as first reported). I listened to online radio reports and observed the live news updates even as I tried to craft the final version of my Sunday sermon. (My 8:00 am sermon actually spoke more directly to the tragic events taking place in Tucson). I've watched the news and listened to commentators such as Rachel Maddow who wisely and appropriately remind us that it isn't just Tucson that's a victim of the wild, wild West gun-free control mindset that pervades our nation's psyche. Hundreds of victims are murdered or injured by the misuse and abuse of firearms each year.

I've prayed and contemplated, along with millions of other people of faith about what Saturday's events mean for us. I've wondered about how life on the streets of Tucson has been for the past 70 hours or so since Jared Lee Loughner walked up and shot Rep. Giffords (Gabrielle) and subsequently sprayed dozens of bullets into the gathered crowd killing a nine year old girl who was born on 9/11/2011, a devout Catholic who was a accomplished Federal judge, and four other good people.

I then read +Kirk Smith's words to the Diocese of Arizona about the shooting. His comments regarding the events of this past weekend and the very true and necessary presence of God's help in times of troubled prompted me to offer these remarks in his comments section as well as here:


I went to school with Sheriff Dupnik's daughter in Tucson. I respect the sheriff for his candor and honesty when he said "...Unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital,... "We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

I'm delighted and thankful that the Diocese of Arizona and its bishop have been public and prayerful voices and agents of peace and reason in a political and social environment where talk radio commentary is so vitriolic and political leaders continue to draft legislation that is both punitive and prejudicial. I preached on the theme of righteousness ("dikaiosyn?") - the term that Matthew's Jesus uses to describe the purpose of his baptism (Matt. 3:15) and God's Reign (Matthew 6:33). Baptism is not only about our own redemption as Christians - it's the ritualistic means that we accept God's invitation to become peacemakers and agents of righteousness into the world in which we live and pray. I've physically been away from the diocese for a little more than two years. I grieve seeing and being with my friends and family there even as much as I am thankful for the ministries that I have been called to in places away from the state of my birth and the city and university of my youth and first ordained ministry.

I was quite shocked and appalled to hear of the attack on Rep. Gifford, her staff, and gathered community member's on Sat. morning. What took place in front of the Safeway on Ina Road is not indicative of the Tucson community that I know and love. And yet, that tragic and violent event against a remarkably moderate, wise, and compassionate legislator took place nonetheless.

I intend to be with you (in Arizona and especially in Tucson) in spirit as you pray and mourn the deaths and injuries of the citizens who were harmed or murdered even as you give thanks for the bravery and public service of Sheriff Dupnik, heroism of people such as Daniel Hernandez, and the healing skills of surgeons such as Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr. I ask that you continue to be Christ's light in the urban centers of our home - where so much poverty is evident and so much hatred lies beneath the surface. I hope that you will continue to proclaim Christ's Gospel and be a reasoned voice of fairness and shared rights and responsibilities in a political environment that advocates ineffective benefits for the wealthiest citizens even as it denies health coverage to organ transplant patients who need such surgeries to survive.

I pray that +Kirk, the ordained and lay leaders of the Diocese of Arizona, and the parishioners of The Episcopal Church there as well as Episcopalians around our nation and the world will continue to live into our baptismal covenants by:

*persevering in resisting evil,
*seeking repentance and returning to the Lord,
*proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,
*seeking and serving Christ in all persons,
*loving God and our neighbors as ourselves striving for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being

Blessings to us all along The Way:

*especially to the victims and their families for healing,
* comfort, and compassion for the alleged assailant and his family for Christ's compassionate and just light to shine on the pain of his soul and mind as well as the darkness of rage in his heart,
*wisdom and courage for the broadcasters, bloggers, and politicians of Arizona and around the country to use their influence and wisdom to bring about an end to the violence across this land and stop victimizing their opponents
*God's urging for us to participate in a shared effort to make this nation a more equitable, less violent and richly diverse place to meaningfully live.

Lastly - I pray that this Season of Epiphany may be a not-so-ordinary time of healing, Grace, and gift-sharing and receiving to my sisters and brothers in Christ as well as all citizens of Tucson who especially need Divine mercy and God-given love in the coming days.